The Snohomish County Courthouse. (Herald file)

The Snohomish County Courthouse. (Herald file)

Lawmakers consider Snohomish County request for 2 more judges

It’s been 15 years since the Legislature approved a new Superior Court judge for the county.

OLYMPIA — A push for state support for two more Superior Court judges in Snohomish County is underway.

Senate Bill 5575 would create and provide funding for the two additional judges, bringing the county’s total to 17. It would be the first expansion of the bench since 2007.

There’s been tremendous population growth since then that’s put a squeeze on judicial resources, Superior Court Judge Millie Judge told a state Senate panel last week.

In the five years leading up to the pandemic, the Superior Court saw an estimated 20% jump in caseload. There was a 67% increase in cases going to trial. COVID’s arrival only made things worse.

“We have more people. They have legal needs,” she said during a Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing on the bill. “We were feeling the pinch long before COVID.”

Criminal cases comprise much of the backlog. When trials, which are done in person, were paused for a time early in the pandemic, it further complicated the situation. Judge has said it could take six years to clear them.

The number of Superior Court judges in each county is set by statute. Any changes are made by the Legislature based on recommendations from the Board for Judicial Administration. That panel draws up its recommendation from an annual analysis of the workload of each municipal and superior court, done by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

In 2020, the analysis showed Snohomish County needed about 1.5 more judges, Brittany Gregory, of the Administrative Office of the Courts, told the committee.

In Washington, the state pays half the salary and all of the benefits for each judicial position. Counties must pony up half the salary. They also must cover costs of any office expenses or court staff.

The bill calls for creating both jobs on July 1. The salary for a superior court judge will be $203,169, with annual benefits of $69,077.

The state would pay $341,324 in the first year, according to a fiscal note for the legislation.

Snohomish County, meanwhile, expects its annual tab will be around $1 million. That tally accounts for its share of salaries for the two judges plus the wage of a court reporter, law clerk and two judicial assistants for each judge.

Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, introduced the bill.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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